The pencil lead sunk deep into my paper as I etched my disgust.
“I hate math.”
After a long night of homework, writing out my anger felt like my only recourse. I’d hated it forever it seemed, and the subject didn’t seem too keen on me either.
“She gets the material and does well on the homework,” my seventh grade math teacher explained to my mother. “She just doesn’t demonstrate that on her tests.”
This, of course, wasn’t the first time I’d heard that sentiment from a teacher. I loved learning, but no matter how hard I tried, tests and I just couldn’t get along. Looking back, I realize it wasn’t math I disliked — it was testing.
I am not the first to announce my disdain for the mandatory, panic ridden venture to prove one’s intelligence. As finals approach, I can almost feel the heart rates of my peers beginning to steadily increase.
Standardized testing drains creativity and misrepresents the real world, inadequately training students for success in society. Creativity is the catalyst of learning. Our minds crave learning from a young age and we come to love learning through play.
“Children’s play is always creative, and in their play they experiment with new, creative variations of themes derived from adults,” wrote Peter Gray, a research professor and author specializing in psychology, according to Psychology Today.
Contrast that idea of learning with the intensity of testing we’re all familiar with.
“One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind, whether one liked it or not,” Albert Einstein said, according to Psychology Today. “This coercion had such a deterring effect that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.”
Instead, we should foster opportunities to use the same problem solving skills that draw on that natural inclination towards creativity.
Projects, studies and collaborative work build on problem solving, leadership, putting knowledge in context and not on a bubble sheet.
Standardized testing also misrepresents what students can expect post formal education.
Never in a job will an employee not have access to the answers or the people who know the answers. The business world is largely collaborative and is not conducted in quiet, tense rooms where all the answers must be given via proctored exams.
It’s been well over a decade since I carved my disdain for math on paper. Recently, I found myself looking up math courses and textbooks, to reteach myself principles I learned to despise.
This summer, I am embarking on my own self-taught math course and much to my surprise — I’m excited about the prospect. Learning in context, with purpose and at my own pace.
The great minds of our time were not tested into brilliance, they pursued opportunities cultivated their natural God-given talents.
Edison failed school and Einstein was told he’d never amount to anything. Their standardized education promised them failure. But, history tells us a different story.
The system will not change overnight, but we are the students who have experienced a broken system and have the motivation and innovation to change it.
And that is, perhaps, the greatest gift we can give to the world.